Apple TV 4K update will fix this one major flaw with HDR

Apple's high-end TV box converts everything to high dynamic range, and that's a no-no. A forthcoming software update will fix the issue.

David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
David Katzmaier
2 min read

Coming soon: A software update to enable native HDR according to the source. Yay!

Sarah Tew/CNET

When I reviewed the $180 Apple TV 4K I liked plenty of things about it, but there was one big thing I didn't. It automatically converted everything to high dynamic range (HDR), including Dolby Vision.

Watch this: Apple TV 4K review: Sleek 4K HDR streaming for a premium price

Since HDR delivers the best picture quality available in home video today, that conversion might sound like a Good Thing™. Apple's engineers apparently thought so. At the time they told me the autoconversion was designed to improve the user experience, minimizing blank screens or other interruptions while the TV adjusts to a different signal.

The problem? The conversion was confusing since it caused false "HDR" or "Dolby Vision" notifications on certain TVs, and sometimes, depending on the show, actually hurt image quality. I noticed more video noise during certain shows, for example. That's why I said:

There's an easy fix for the issue. Apple could enable a "native" mode that disables the 4K HDR conversion, and only serves up HDR for actual HDR videos. I suggested just such a measure and Apple's representatives said they'd consider it.

According to the release notes for Apple TV software update 11.2, which was seeded to developers yesterday, they're taking my advice (boldface mine):

  • Automatic mode switching to native frame rate and dynamic range of video content with Apple TV 4K
  • Support for switching Apple TV 4K display output to SDR for apps that are GPU-bound when running in HDR
  • Restoring Unwatched category in Home Sharing for Movies, TV Shows, and Home Videos 

LG owners with Apple TV 4K, wave goodbye to false flags.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Translation? Once version 11.2 is made public, your Apple TV won't convert everything to HDR and/or Dolby Vision. Instead, it will serve up the correct, "native" dynamic range of the video.

An Apple representative confirmed to me that Apple TV 4K will still convert everything to 4K/UHD resolution, but that's fine with me and par for the course on 4K streaming devices, including Roku and Amazon Fire TV.

Apple didn't yet reply to my questions on timing for the release, or when (if ever) the box would be compatible with Dolby Atmos audio. However, the latter isn't a huge competitive disadvantage since only Vudu offers Atmos on streamers right now -- at least until Netflix updates its apps beyond Xbox One and LG TVs.

I'll update my Apple TV 4K review once I get the chance to test the update.